Everyone and No One to Turn to: Intellectual Roots and Contexts for Conversation Analysis


University of Wisconsin

1 Introduction

Conversation Analysis (CA) has established itself as a worldwide theoretical and empirical endeavor concerned with the social scientific understanding and analysis of interaction. The growth of this field over the decades from the first published papers by Harvey Sacks (1967a, b) and Emanuel Schegloff (1968) up to the present day can only be charted in exponential terms and is a remarkable accomplishment. What are the intellectual roots and contexts for this accomplishment? That is the question to which this chapter is addressed, and its title is meant to be a kind of pun on Sacks’ concern with such categories as everyone, as well as the subtitle of Sacks’ dissertation (and first publication), The Search for Help: No One to Turn to.1 The pun is meant to suggest that Conversation Analysis reaches into an immense variety of traditions and does so because its founders turned to many different scholars and scholarly works (everyone) as the field of CA burgeoned. At the same time, CA represents nothing less than a revolution or paradigm shift in the social sciences. Consequently, for Sacks, Schegloff, Jefferson and the other pioneers2 who fashioned CA and its phenomena and approach from a dense underbrush of influences, there was no one in terms of predecessors or contemporaries to turn to (Sacks, 1992 Vol 2:549). Observe this exchange ...

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